Government // Cybersecurity
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4/3/2008
01:17 PM
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New Zealander 'AKILL' Pleads Guilty To Botnet Charges

The economic damage of an 18-year-old and his group's crimes is estimated to be about $20 million.

A New Zealand teenager, who was arrested in November as a result of the FBI's Operation Bot Roast II cyber crime investigation, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to six charges for illegal use of computers.

Eighteen-year-old Owen Thor Walker, who used the online handles "AKILL," Snow Whyte, and "Snow Walker," is believed to be the leader of an international group of botnet hackers known as the "A-Team."

At the time of his arrest, the FBI alleged that Walker's botnet group was responsible for subverting more than 1 million computers using malware.

New Zealand police said the group was responsible for installing malware on 1.3 million computers via the Netherlands.

The economic damage of the group's crimes is estimated to be about $20 million, though authorities have also acknowledged that such damage is difficult to quantify.

Walker earned over $36,000 for installing adware through his botnet from ECS International, an adware company based in the Netherlands that has been prosecuted for such practices, according to The New Zealand Herald.

Walker's crimes could bring a sentence of up to seven years in prison, according to The New Zealand Herald, but the judge in the case indicated that he was not considering jailing Walker, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Walker thus likely faces home or community detention, community service, and/or a fine when he is sentenced in late May.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, contends a stiffer sentence is warranted. "Walker admitted in court that he knew what he was doing was illegal, but did not consider it to be criminal," said Cluley in a statement. "With more and more high profile arrests of hackers a clear message must be sent that their activities will not be tolerated. Clearly this man was just one cog in a larger criminal gang, some of whom have still not been brought to justice."

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